At the end of February, five months after my failed attempt to join the EPC last September (which is quite a story in itself), I finally managed to make an orderly transfer out of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. In the process, I have also become a part of a large, very healthy church in suburban St Louis that has just made the same move to ECO.
I do bring with me some fond memories of my 43 years in the church in which I was confirmed (41 years as an elder, 31 as a minister). I have been a member of five presbyteries, and have served in five installed positions as solo pastor and three as interim pastor. I was privileged to serve as delegate to the General Assembly in Denver in 2003, and to preach for the Presbytery of Prospect Hill. I have also been a regular contributor to Presbyweb (now ChurchAndWorld.com) and the Presbyterian Outlook. I leave behind a number of friends, some of whom God has obviously called to remain for the sake of those who need their witness, and even some friends from the other side of the ideological divide.
In 2011, I became convinced that the PCUSA was no longer a church in the Scots’ Confession definition of the term, it was a mission field, a field like the 2nd Century church, where orthodox and heretic competed for souls and turf in the same neighborhood. (Saying so in my Outlook post “What Would Bonhoeffer Do?” (http://pres-outlook.org/2011/06/what-would-bonhoeffer-do/) probably cost me a job.)
Yet I was willing to stay on that mission field, as long as God gave me a place to serve there. However, at this point, the doors began to close for me, and although my EP did her best to try to persuade me to stay, I came to the conviction that God was pointing the way out. While I was waiting for the process of leaving the PCUSA to run its course, numerous other issues began to pile up on my list of grievous concerns, issues on which the church seemed to be always getting it wrong, issues far beyond the sex debate. I became increasingly glad that I was getting out.
One key point where I began to sense that this was no longer the church where I belonged was a planned theological discussion on the atonement in a meeting of local presbytery leaders. I already realized that Anselm’s satisfaction theory (which I regard to be the historic central belief on which all the other theories depend) was going to be a minority position. I was shocked to find only about 20 percent support for the view. Conditions were even worse than I had realized.
Left-wing bigotry is one of my worst memories of the PCUSA. For over 30 years, I have seen worshippers of the goddess Inclusiveness take a baseball bat to anyone who does not believe like they do. Look at the aftermath of last month’s SCOTUS decision on marriage, and you’ll see left-wing bigotry on steroids in the society at large. It’s not enough to get permission to do it our way, but you must also participate and celebrate it. When it comes to bullying and oppression, the Left can’t recognize its own face in the mirror. I feel for those on the Left who reject the hypocritical exclusivism of their fellow progressives, but much like moderate Muslims, they are not in a position to control the bullying tactics of their comrades done in the name of so-called “justice.”
Now, there are orthodox churches with orthodox pastors who are deeply troubled by what the PCUSA has become, but who do not yet feel sufficiently compelled to leave. I can understand that. However, I predict that push will come to shove for many of them when their present pastor leaves or retires. If having an orthodox pastor is a high priority for a local church, it is going to become increasingly difficult to find such a pastor at a time where most of such pastors are either leaving by their own choice or are being driven out against their will. Such a congregation will need to decide what they will do when their current pastor leaves before they get to that point. If it is important for them to have an orthodox pastor, this may longer be the place where they can find one.
ECO is so new that it doesn’t have that centuries-old feel. But what good is centuries of faith tradition that one has apostasized from? Unlike the EPC, which accepts only an updated Westminster Confession and its catechisms, ECO accepts the entire Book of Confessions as it existed when ECO was formed. The fact that we accept all of these confessions is because, like Calvin and Luther, we believe that we are the ones who are remaining faithful to the historic Church and to the faith contained in those confessions.
Biblical Studies Chair, Morthland College, West Frankfort IL, and
Assistant Pastor, Bonhomme Presbyterian Church, Chesterfield MO